University of Wisconsin senior wide receiver Jared Abbrederis dropped the third pass thrown to him Saturday night against Ohio State — a dig route over the middle — between two defenders.
It happened on the Badgers’ second offensive series. The first two throws to Abbrederis weren’t any better, a completion for no gain and a pass breakup on a slant by cornerback Bradley Roby.
Yet, after the drop, UW wide receivers coach Chris Beatty turned to the receivers on the sideline and confidently predicted Abbrederis was going to have a huge day, even though his day had started with three targets and one catch for no yards.
“To be honest, I told the guys after he dropped a dig route early in the game, I said, ‘He’s about to go off,’ ” wide receivers coach Chris Beatty said. “Because I didn’t think they could cover him.”
All Beatty needed to see was the Buckeyes’ plan to shadow Abbrederis with Roby, the redshirt junior All-American (ESPN.com) who is already being projected as a top-10 NFL draft pick for next year.
It was a little unusual for Ohio State to use that strategy with Abbrederis. The Buckeyes didn’t do it last year against UW or against Penn State’s Allen Robinson, who was named the best wide receiver in the Big Ten Conference in 2012.
But as Beatty told the UW receivers, “I think (Roby’s) the best in the country, and that gives Abby a chance to show people how well he runs routes and how well he does his thing.
“Abby rose up to the challenge. I think he’s as good a route runner as there is in the country.”
While Ohio State prevailed 31-24 in the featured bout, Abbrederis recorded a technical knockout in the entertaining undercard, finishing with career highs of 10 receptions for 207 yards and one touchdown. That it came in repeated one-on-one matchups with a player regarded as possibly the best cornerback in the country made it downright jaw dropping — to everybody except the guys Abbrederis wows on a regular basis.
“The stat sheet, you’re going to go, ‘Holy cow!’ But that doesn’t surprise any of us, honestly, in the wide receiver room,” UW sophomore wide receiver Jordan Fredrick said. “We see it every day. He practices all of the time, he isn’t a diva at all.
“He doesn’t take practices off and show up on Saturdays. He’s like that every day. It’s a consistent thing.”
Just about any receiver would take getting matched up with a cornerback as a challenge, and that was Abbrederis’ approach. He also knew people were expecting Roby to basically take Abbrederis away from the Badgers, forcing them to go elsewhere.
“Coming into the game, I knew people had those thoughts, just because he was an All-American last year,” Abbrederis said. “You have to just accept the challenge.
“I played against him the last two years. I knew I could play with him. He’s a good player, but I was comfortable with my game. I knew he would win a couple. My goal is to win the majority of them.”
That’s essentially what Abbrederis did following the slow start. He caught four passes for 118 yards and a touchdown in the first quarter. At halftime, he had six for 159.
He had two catches in the first half that were as good as almost anything Big Ten fans will see this season. On a 36-yard touchdown grab in the first quarter, Roby was in great position off the line and used his inside hand to hold Abbrederis’ jersey the entire way. Joel Stave delivered a perfect pass, and Abbrederis made the contested catch at the Ohio State 14-yard line before pulling free into the end zone.
“That was probably the best I thought (Roby) had him covered most of the day,” Beatty said.
That might have been topped by an acrobatic 33-yard catch in the second quarter. Abbrederis got free on a double move, but Stave’s pass was underthrown. Abbrederis had to make a late adjustment and made the acrobatic catch while getting his legs clipped out from under him by Roby.
Early in the season, Abbrederis had missed a couple deep balls, so he worked on attacking the ball and catching it at its high point.
“When the ball’s in the air, some people talk about feeling the ball is theirs,” Beatty said. “I think he believes the ball is his.”
Late in the second quarter, the Buckeyes started double-covering Abbrederis by rolling a safety over the top. He still found ways to get open.
“He’s the full package,” UW coach Gary Andersen said. “He understands zone coverages, he’s going to get into the holes. He’s very talented when it comes to catching contested balls. Jared is not deceptively fast; Jared is fast.”
Beatty said a couple NFL scouts who came through on Monday were definitely impressed with Abbrederis’ performance.
“They were like, ‘Hey, your boy went off,’ and he did,” Beatty said. “(The NFL) is long range and I know he’s disappointed we didn’t win. He wants to win, that’s more than the stats or anything like that. At the same time, you’re playing against arguably the best corner in the country, when you have a day like that, it can’t hurt (his draft stock).”
Fredrick never tires of watching Abbrederis in practice or games because of how hard he plays all of the time.
“You can watch him every play, all game long, it’s unbelievable what he does and how much effort he puts in,” Fredrick said. “That’s exactly why he’s so good … because he’s not taking a play off.
“He can be the show all day. You don’t really have to watch the game, just watch him. It’s pretty entertaining, worth the price of a ticket.”